Zákynthos (Zante), lies in the Ionian Sea, only 16 kilometers off the west coast of the Peloponnese. While the island’s northwest coast has steep cliffs plummeting down to rocky shores with white pebble beaches and crystal clear turquoise seas, the south is flatter with golden sand beaches.
The hinterland, in the center of the island, is a fertile plain planted with olive groves and woodland. The combination of beautiful scenery and good beaches has made Zákynthos a very popular tourist destination. Historically, it was under Venice from 1484 to 1797, and Venetian influence can still be felt in the architecture, cuisine, and dialect. Unfortunately, few of its old buildings have remained, due to two devastating earthquakes, in 1515 and 1953. Zakynthos Airport lies six kilometers south of Zákynthos town.
1 Zákynthos Town (Zante Town)
On the island’s east coast, extending in a wide arc along the gently sloping shores of a bay, Zákynthos Town is the capital of Zákynthos. Many of its Neoclassical buildings were demolished by the 1953 earthquake, but its paved streets and squares, filled with bakeries, cafés, boutiques, and jewelry stores, are still a joy to explore on foot. The town’s main church, Agios Dionysios, which houses the relics of the town’s patron saint, dates from 1708 and was reconstructed in 1954. For spectacular views over town and the port, go up to the village of Bohali (2.5 kilometers) to the ruined Venetian castle, set in a park with pine trees. This attraction was also largely destroyed by the earthquake, but you can still see the main gate (bearing the Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice), the outer walls, and battlements.
2 Byzantine Museum
On the main square in Zakynthos Town, this purpose-built museum displays religious icons, frescoes, and sculptures from the island’s churches and monasteries, dating from the 12th century onwards. There’s also a scale model of the town from around 1950, giving you some idea of how it looked before the devastating 1953 earthquake.
Address: Solomos Square, 29100 Zakynthos Town
3 Roma Mansion
Built in the in 1660s, this proud mansion is one of the few old buildings to have survived the 1953 earthquake. It is owned by the Roma family, who decided to renovate it and opened it to the public in 2007. Inside, you can see period furniture, paintings, and books, giving you some idea of how local aristocrats once lived.
Address: Louka Carrer 19, Ζakynthos Town 29100
4 Shipwreck beach (Navagio beach)
Probably the most photographed beach in Greece, and also featuring in many Greek National Tourism Organisation advertisements, Shipwreck Beach lies in the so-called Smuggler’s Cove on Zakynthos’ west coast. Made up of fine white pebbles backed by cliffs, the beach takes its name from the wreck of a rusty ship that was transporting contraband cigarettes and was washed up here in 1980. The beach can only be accessed from the sea – you can take a taxi-boat from the harbor at Agios Nikolaos(on the northeast coast, 32 kilometers from Zakynthos Town) or visit it as part of a round-the-island one-day boat excursion from Zakynthos Town, offered by many tour operators. The beach does get extremely busy in peak season, but is quieter after 3pm when the day trippers leave.
5 Keri Caves
On the southwest coast, 14 kilometers from Zákynthos Town, close to the village of Kerí, a row of dramatic caves opens directly onto a crystal clear turquoise sea. It’s possible to visit the caves as part of an organised excursion, or rent a boat and go independently. You can swim into the caves and snorkel or dive to see the amazing lighting effects as the sun reflects through the water and onto the cave walls.
6 Blue Caves
On the northern tip of the island, at Cape Skinari, you’ll find the most spectacular so-called Blue Caves. Inside, the bright blue sea reflects the color of the sky, which is mirrored off the walls of the caves and creates magical azure and sapphire light. You can visit the Blue Caves in a small glass-bottom boat, which departs from Agios Nikolaos (on the northeast coast, 32 kilometers from Zakynthos Town), or as part of the longer round-the-island cruise from Zakynthos Town.
7 Zakynthos National Marine Park in Laganás Bay
On the southeast coast, eight kilometers south of Zákynthos town, the wide bay of Laganás is home to several blissful stretches of sandy beach. Since the 1980s, it has been the island’s top resort, with budget accommodation attracting young visitors in search of sea, sun, and fun. However, locals are now being encouraged to develop eco-tourism here, as Laganás Bay is the breeding area for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). An endangered species, this timid creature lays its eggs in the sand in summer, and there are an estimated 1,300 loggerhead turtles living around the bay. In 1999, the Zakynthos National Marine Park was founded to protect wildlife in Laganás Bay and to limit access to certain areas of beach during the nesting season. To learn more, visit the park’s exhibition center in Dafni, at the east end of Laganas Bay.
8 Askos Stone Park
A must-do for animal lovers, Askos Stone Park is in the north of the island, close to the village of Volimes, 30 kilometers from Zakynthos Town. It’s highly recommended for children – animals here include deer, raccoons, peacocks, and tortoises, as well as a pony, a donkey, goats, and chickens. You get a map and a bottle of water with the entrance ticket, and there are attendants in the park who can explain where the animals are from and how to feed them.
9 Venetian Fortress
Like most of the islands of the Ionian Sea, Zakynthos was also protected by the foreign marine invaders by its dominant and enormous fortress. The Venetian Fortress of Zakynthos is located in the place of the ancient Acropolis of the island and has undergone a number a reconstructions, after consecutive destructive earthquakes. Except for the Venetian prisons, the gunpowder buildings, the English military barracks and other war-related constructions, the fortress also includes an important number of religious sites.
10 Solomos Museum
Even if you don’t know a single Greek word, you should definitely pay a visit to the museum (here’s a Greek word!) that is dedicated to the Greek national poet, Dionysios Solomos. The museum was created in 1966 and includes the impressing graves of Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos, another great poet who was born on the island. It also includes portraits, manuscripts, books and objects that used to belong to Solomos and other important poets of Zakynthos.
Solomos & Kalvos Museum, St. Marco Square 15, Zakynthos, Greece, +30 2695 028982
11 Agios Dionysios
The church dedicated to the patron saint of Zakynthos, Agios Dionysios, is located in the heart of the island. It preserves the relics of the saint and hosts a museum dedicated in the presentation of samples of the Christian church.
Bochali is located on the highest point of the city of Zakynthos and just two kilometers away from it. It offers an amazing view of the city, its port and the Ionian Sea. One of the oldest neighborhoods of Zakynthos, full of palm and olive trees that offer natural shade and unique moments of relaxation